Words By Khalid Strickland
The deeper I get into this game, the more I doubt that I’m built for journalism. My homies think it’s a picnic. “Strick, you get to go to hot shows and parties for free,” they say. True indeed, but they don’t know the politics and bullshit I tolerate to attend some of these gigs. Being a real nigga, it’s tough to deal with folks lying to my face (“Sorry, there’s no media list”) and juiced-up bouncers barking orders (“Don’t cross the velvet rope!”) without hooking off on somebody. But I refuse to be dragged back into the gutter.
That’s why for nearly two hours, I patiently baked in the sun before entering the anticipated Rock The Bells concert at Jones Beach. Meanwhile, the Nikon Theater’s yellow-shirted minions ran a defensive scheme that Bill Belichick would envy. Many of the security guards, perhaps not used to corralling thousands of hip-hop fans, were a little overzealous. You’d think all the weed smoke hovering around would’ve mellowed security out, but no dice.
Once inside, I kicked it with my Brooklyn homie, underground icon Poison Pen; he’d just been onstage with his fellow Stronghold crew member, Immortal Technique. I was heated that I missed Technique’s show, but it’s always good to chop it up with Pen. I missed Murs show too, but I saw him in V.I.P. and as always he was down-to-Earth.
By the time I got to the main stage, De La Soul was beginning their set, which featured appearances from Q-Tip on “Buddy,” Dres of Black Sheep (the fans flipped for “This or That”) and Biz Markie, who had the capacity crowd singing along to “Just a Friend.” Next, B-Real of Cypress Hill introduced the The Pharcyde, who performed their hits “Runnin,” “Ya Mama” and the timeless “Passing Me By.” Two of my favorite artists, Raekwon and Ghostface, gave a decent performance together. As much as I dig those cats, I’ve seen them both do better. Supernatural followed with a crowd-pleasing freestyle where he incorporated items the fans tossed to him; blunts, t-shirts, and even a pair of panties (!!!) effortlessly meshed into his impromptu verses. Mos Def’s segment was respectable but didn’t really explode until Talib Kweli assisted him for some Black Star joints. Redman and Method Man brought down the house with their kinetic set; EPMD, Slick Rick and Ghostface provided entertaining cameos.
Following Red and Meth’s tough act was Nas, accompanied by DJ Green Lantern and a live band. After Escobar rattled off most of Illmatic and various hits from his deep catalog, the arena erupted when Jay-Z joined Nas for renditions of “Success” and “Black Republican.”
To see it on YouTube is one thing, but to actually be there and feel the electricity when Hov touched the stage? Words can do that moment no justice. Unfortunately, I had to leave before A Tribe Called Quest closed the concert out. Before the hip-hop historians give me the Lupe Fiasco treatment, understand that I love Tribe with all my heart, but I had paper to collect elsewhere.
The Nikon’s smaller “culture club stage” was jumpin’ too. Amongst the performers were The Cool Kids, Wale, B.O.B., Jay Electronica and the legendary Afrika Bambaataa. Guerilla Union, the group that put together the Paid Dues concert in June, deserves props for organizing Rock The Bells. Alexandra and her hot friend, Felicia, get shout-outs for helping me and my photographer infiltrate the action. If GU’s upcoming events are as tight as Dues and Bells, maybe I’ll stick with this journalism shit after all.
To see more pics, take a look @ the Flickr Photo Set.
Pics By Sachiko Kato